Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Having a cellphone in sight could be problematic for drivers

An academic study found that the mere presence of a smartphone can cause issues relating to cognitive powers: The phone does not have to be in use.

Researchers conducted two experiments that show the extent of distraction produced by having a smartphone. As a driver, you should be interested in the results linking cognitive powers with the location of your cellphone.

Testing setup

The 2017 study was conducted at the University of Texas at Austin and consisted of two experiments regarding smartphone dependence and the ability of users to think and function in relation to those devices. There were 520 undergraduate students in the first test and 275 in the second. The researchers asked these smartphone users to choose one of three options with their phones:

  • Place the phone on a desk within sight
  • Place the phone close by, but out of sight
  • Put the phone in another room

In the first experiment, participants took a series of tests so that researchers could measure their functional intelligence and working memory capacity. At the end of the test, the students answered questions relating to how frequently they thought about their phones. In the second experiment, researchers measured the functional intelligence and working memory capacity based on the way the participants used their phones and the level of their dependence on, and emotional attachment to, their devices.

The results

In the first test, participants whose phones were in another room scored highest on cognitive tasks, such as focus and problem-solving. Findings in the second experiment indicated that the mere presence of a smartphone appears to drain cognitive capacity even if the owner is not thinking about it.

Application to driving performance

Researchers have conducted many studies about smartphone use. A personal injury attorney will tell you that some researchers have concluded that distracted driving involving a cellphone is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. Keep your phone out of sight and your cognitive powers sharp: Operating a vehicle is a responsibility that requires a driver’s full attention, the better to avoid a trip to the emergency room. 

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